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Today is your birthday

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This time, the memory felt different.

              Wash saw the familiar face of Allison, laughing at a camera, but the accompanying guilt and sorrow wasn’t there.  Instead, it was replaced with a sick sense of joy.  He felt happy, happier than he had in years, and Wash hated it, because he didn’t know why.

              He was holding the camera and pointing it around the room.  In front of him, Allison laughed as she held out something that Wash couldn’t focus on.  It was glowing softly, and looked pink.

              A cake.  Is this…the Director’s birthday?

              He heard her start to sing, off-key and endearing, and the happiness he felt in his chest doubled.  Wash recoiled.  He felt sick.  This wasn’t him, this was someone else, or was it, he couldn’t remember.

              And now everything was fading, and Allison was there again, but she was leaving, and he knew she wouldn’t come back, he had to stop her, had to –

              Leonard, come on.  Stop it, put that thing down.

              Stop, please, he knew what was happening, he had to stop her, bring her back -

              “Church!”

              Wash heard the voice, but didn’t recognize it.

              “Church, Church, Church!”

              Someone was shaking him.  It was Allison, begging him to let her go, but he couldn’t, he –

              “Washington!”

              Tucker’s voice shocked Wash into waking up with a jolt.  He was tangled up in his sheets, panting hard.  Caboose was looming over him, gripping his shoulders so tightly it hurt.

              “Church, you were yelling in your sleep,” Caboose said simply, his big eyes looking concerned.

              “Lot more than yelling,” Tucker sighed.  Wash could tell he was trying to play off his concern as apathy, but he could see a tinge of fear in his eyes.  “You…you okay, man?”

              “Yeah, yeah, I’m good.”

              Wash managed to pry Caboose’s hands off his arms as he sat up.

              “What are you still standing here for?” he asked suspiciously, glancing between the two of them.

              Tucker rolled his eyes as Caboose’s face lit up.

              “We have a surprise for you, Church!” he said brightly.

              Wash rubbed his face and yawned.

              “Can it wait until after I get coffee?”

              “Do not go in that room!” Caboose demanded.  “That’s where the surprise is!”

              Tucker was smirking in the corner.  Wash shot him a look and he sighed.

              “Don’t look at me!  All I can tell you is that it doesn’t involve bullets like last time.”

              “Or knives.  Or giant tanks,” Wash added.

              “Right.  This one’s actually nice!”

              Wash smiled and pushed himself off the bed.

              “Lead the way.”

              Caboose started jumping up and down as he made his way to the door.

              “Oh, Church, you will love this surprise! I made it all by myself!”

              Tucker coughed.

              “With some help from Tucker,” Caboose added under his breath, clearly displeased.

              They reached the door and Caboose turned back to Wash.

              “You have to close your eyes, silly!”

              Wash shot another look to Tucker, who threw up his hands.

              “Hey, I don’t make the rules!”

              Wash sighed and covered his eyes with his hands.  Caboose tugged at his arm and pulled him forward through the door.

              “Surprise!”

              A collective of voices cheered loudly, and Wash dropped his hands and stared at the sight in front of him.

              All of Red team was huddled behind the kitchen counter.  In front of them, pink and glowing like his memories, was a birthday cake.  It looked sloppily made, and some of the candles were slowly sliding off their perch, but it seemed edible.

              “Do you love it, Church??” Caboose asked, again bouncing with energy.  “I knew it was your birthday, so…”

              Tucker chuckled and leaned over to Wash.

              “It’s actually Church’s birthday.  We celebrate every time, just…play along, would you?”

              Wash nodded numbly, stepping forward.  Sarge scowled at him.

              “I know you’re a dirty good-for-nothing Blue!  But there’s such a thing as knowing your enemy!  And what better way to gather information than to spy on them at a celebration of their annual aging?!”

              “Plus, Caboose said there would be cake,” Grif added.  “I loveee cake.”

              “Grif, you can’t just take a man’s birthday cake!” Simmons protested.  “There are rules!”

              The two started squabbling and Sarge tried to break it up.  Caboose bounded forward and tried to get everyone to start singing Happy Birthday, while Tucker shook his head and gave Wash a knowing look.

              Wash wasn’t paying attention.

              He was remembering his memories of the Director, how happy he was.  He was focusing on how disoriented he felt now, because they couldn’t have known.

              Back in Freelancer, there had been a night where York had drunkenly tried to hack into the Director’s personal files.  He had gotten nowhere, but he did get his birthday.  He had turned to Washington and bent over laughing because

              What are the odds?  Who would have thought?

              Washington didn’t think it was a big deal.  He had smiled with the new knowledge and moved on, but now…

              But now

              He figured it wasn’t that weird.  People share the same birthday all the time.  There were only so many days in the year.

              He didn’t think the Reds and Blues knew that.

              Caboose had finally rounded up everybody and now they were singing.  It sounded awful, but he didn’t care, because for one small moment he was back with his friends on the MOI, as they gathered around one measly cupcake they had managed to scrounge from the mess, York and Carolina holding up their lighter to serve as a candle, CT giving the finger in the general direction of the Director, and he was home.

              He was home.

              The song ended, and he found himself back in Blue base, Caboose pulling him over to blow out the candles.  He closed his eyes and, like a child, made a wish.

              Whatever this is.  Please don’t let it fall apart like last time.

              He leaned forward and blew all the candles out in one breath.

              Caboose whooped for joy and immediately handed out plates.  Grif was the first to get a slice as Simmons reprimanded him.  Sarge scoffed about “the food of our enemies” before taking a bite.  Caboose got icing spread all over his face and Tucker laughed at him.  Wash got the last slice and settled into the back of the kitchen, shoving Grif out of the way as he tried to make himself some coffee.

              The Reds and Blues chatted and argued amongst themselves.  Grif had already curled up and was taking a nap.  Caboose was babbling about planning the next party.

              Wash licked the icing off his fingers as he looked around the room.  He shoved back images of Allison and a camera, instead focusing on his friends.

              His family.